By Milo Mandelli-Valla
New York City, New York
As global tensions rise on the geopolitical stage–the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese threats to Taiwan, or nations such as North Korea and Iran developing nuclear weapons–President Joe Biden took a trip to the Middle East. During his four-day trip, Biden stopped in Israel and more controversially, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The trip attempted to shore up U.S. relations with traditional allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia in addition to strategizing methods to minimize Russian, Chinese, and Iranian influence.
Saudi Arabia has been under pressure recently due to their instigation and funding of a war in Yemen that has gone on for years causing a humanitarian crisis, as well as human rights abuses and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Biden met with the crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), to both reinforce the United States’ military alliance with the Saudis in the region and to increase oil supply in an attempt to reduce skyrocketing gas prices in America.
However, when the trip concluded, MBS had made no public commitment to pump more oil. The Saudis are being counted on to influence an OPEC cartel meeting next month to get a few hundred thousand more barrels onto the market, likely with a minor - yet valuable - impact on U.S. gas prices. Critics of Biden’s trip argue that “a presidency that began with bold talk of a new, human-rights-centered approach to the Arab world has reverted to a policy not much less indulgent of dictators than those of previous administrations.”
Biden did claim to the traveling press that he had raised the issue of Khashoggi's murder directly with Crown Prince Mohammed. Biden said he was "straightforward and direct" with MBS, adding that he indicated to the Crown Prince that he believed he was responsible for Khashoggi's murder. "For an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am. I'll always stand up for our values," Biden told reporters. Biden reiterated this idea at a meeting with international leaders, calling the values enshrined in the UN charter "foundational to who we are as Americans" and encouraging the assembled leaders to allow more rights for women and the press, as he argued that freedom of speech improves society and makes it more advanced.
On the geopolitical front, Biden attempted to reassure leaders in the Middle East that stability in the region remains a top priority of the United States. The President's foreign policy focus since taking office has largely been on countering China's growing geopolitical influence and Russia's war in Ukraine, raising questions about the extent of Biden's commitment to engagement in the Middle East. "The United States is invested in building a positive future in the region in partnership with all of you, and the United States is not going anywhere," Biden said at the meeting with the GCC+3.
The biggest threat to the Middle East continues to be Iran. As the nation advances towards the production of a nuclear weapon, Biden faces increasing pressure from key Middle East allies to revive the Iran nuclear deal. But hopes appear to be fading that a deal will materialize, and the President acknowledged that the US is "not going to wait forever" for a response from the Iranian leadership. Biden told the press, "We will continue to work with Israel to counter threats from Iran in the region, including support for terrorism and a ballistic missile program that continues and the proliferation of weapons to proxies like Hezbollah."
Biden went into the Middle East with the hopes of reinforcing peace in the region and increasing access to oil for Americans and left without guarantees for either of these objectives. Aside from all of the backlash that Biden has faced, the power now lies in the hands of the Saudi government as to whether they will supply oil for Americans, and questions remain around the serious threat of Iran.